Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: Black Country, New Road, Mitski, Animal Collective, Yeule, Rolo Tomassi

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

The first releases of February smash the entirety of last month out of the water. Considering the massive volume of high profile releases that I couldn’t even fathom fitting into this column that came out on Friday, it seems February 4th, 2022 is set in stone as one of the biggest release dates in music in a very, very long time. The albums this week are all evolutions of their respective artists in one way or another, with a few being their best work.

Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up Here
Art Rock
Released February 2, 2022

5 Globes out of 5

It has been almost exactly a year since I listened to and reviewed Black Country, New Road’s debut album “For The First Time.” That album was my second favorite of last year and an easy five star album. The hype facing the second album was absolutely immense. When the first single “Chaos Space Marine” dropped, I listened to the first ten seconds before I paused it and preordered the vinyl and CD. I don’t think I have ever done that in my entire life. As the singles slowly trickled out for “Ants From Up Here,” I did everything in my power to resist the urge to listen and spoil the surprise for myself. Each time I failed miserably. I was in love with this album before I had even heard the entire thing. The four singles instantly became some of my most played songs in my entire streaming history over a few short months. The anticipation was the most intense I have ever felt towards the release of media in my life. Then, just a few days before the album was set to release, the band announced that vocalist and guitarist Isaac Wood had left the band.

I and many others were heartbroken. Wood’s unflinching lyricism makes up a lot of what is magical about this band. His reason for leaving concerns his mental health, as he was never meant to be a frontman and is still finishing up college. One can imagine how such a young songwriter can feel when thrusted into intense cult pedalstooling, especially with various large publications praising you and your band as “one of the most important rock bands of our time.” Thankfully we live in a time where Isaac can get the help he needs, and the band posted pictures of them celebrating the album’s release with their former frontman. They also assured fans that they were not going to stop making music, as they had already begun work on their third album after Isaac told them of his decision to leave. They also made it known that Isaac was always welcome back, but that they would not perform any of the music they made during his time with the band live without him in their lineup.

If this is Isaac’s last musical contribution to the band, then he couldn’t have ended it better. I am not exaggerating when I say this is one of the greatest albums I have ever heard in my life. Few pieces of media burst at the seams with emotion like “Ants From Up Here.”After the brief and aptly titled “Intro,” “Chaos Space Marine” explodes into the listeners speakers with a wonderful violin motif from Georgia Ellery, who is doubled by Lewis Evans’ saxophone. May Kershaw leads this track with a bouncy piano motif that makes this the most propulsive song on the record that sets things off like a rocket. This is the closest they have sounded to a traditional rock band and it is pure heaven. “Concorde,” my favorite of the singles, is one of the most dazzling displays of how to play with dynamics and instrumentation. The lyrics display the lengths someone would go to for someone they love, albeit with that unrequited twist to it. The song seems almost prophetic with its line “Isaac will suffer.” The final section of the song is one of the greatest displays of euphoria put to song, as Isaac exclaims “Concorde and I die free this time” before Lewis’s sax solo rips through as the entire band crashes in. While humorously titled, “Bread Song” is a poignant look into a failing relationship that is told through two different musical approaches. The first half is a swelling mix of dissonant strings and drum washes with Isaac’s crooning rising above, while the second half adds a more traditional folk arrangement that shows the same story from a new perspective.

“Good Will Hunting” takes its title from the film of the same name, but the lyrics deal with wanting to be remembered in the eyes of the one you adored while drowning in a sea of constant communication. Isaac’s vocals on this song are the most confident and powerful that he has done thus far. The way the synths melt into the chorus is such a wonderful touch. Bassist Tyler Hyde joins Georgia on backing vocals, creating a unique contrast to Isaac’s own voice. “Haldern” features some piano acrobatics from May, who together with Lewis and Georgia create a minimalist masterpiece in the vein of Phillip Glass. The whole song began as an improv during a livestream, but it works incredibly as a fully realized song. “Mark’s Theme” was primarily written by Lewis upon learning of the death of his uncle. The classical influenced track is a waltz between the violin and sax over piano and bass. If it wasn’t composed to commemorate a specific person, I could imagine it being a first dance song at many weddings.

To skip ahead a bit, the album ends with the combo of concert staples “Snow Globes” and “Basketball Shoes.” Both feature lengthy intros before giving way to heartfelt verses. “Snow Globes” has one of the most infectious and heartbreaking refrains I have ever heard. Drummer Charlie Wayne becomes completely unhinged at one point, delivering a freeform drum solo over Isaac’s increasingly passionate repetitions of the chorus. The musical separation of the drums and the rest of the song serve to simulate being rattled around a snow globe, with everything covering you up as you are lost in the storm. It sets up for the album’s centerpiece “Basketball Shoes” superbly. This track is the catharsis of the album, evolving several musical ideas over the course of 13 minutes. The lyrics are uncompromising in their openness. Some might be turned off the record due to how vulnerable this track is, but it is impactful due to that. This track is the heaviest the album gets, as the last few minutes explode into an electrifying ending that will leave you emotionally spent. That is, if you aren’t already crying.

The song preceding “Snow Globes” is “The Place He Inserted The Blade” and it is one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever heard. It starts off as a gentle piano ballad fit with flute before the verses start to spark with an almost sinister undertone. Isaac sings of fear and nostalgia. The instrumentation switches to an upbeat staccato section as Isaac comforts his lover, confessing that he cannot do anything without thinking of them. The chorus blasts in with a melody that hits every nerve imaginable as Isaac uses a cooking disaster as an analogy for codependency. The song’s title is an imagining of the phrase “show me where it hurts.” The final chorus sees the entire band join in on the euphoric exaltations of “good morning” before they erupt into wordless vocals that carries the song to its end. Isaac calls out during this section, flipping the script to show that this codependency is one sided when he asks “where to tie the other end of this chain.” When I first heard this song, I knew I was in for something magical. By the time the first pre chorus hit, I started to cry. From there, my tears grew into an uncontrollable sob. I couldn’t keep it together. I’ve cried to many movies and songs, but never like this. I had to pause the album when the song finished and sat in the bathroom as my bawling almost made me physically ill from how intense it was. I wish I could properly articulate how much this song meant to me on a Sunday at three in the morning.

I normally don’t get the chance to listen to the albums I review multiple times given that I only have the weekend, but I have listened to “Ants From Up Here” at least three times in a 24 hour period. The only reason why that isn’t higher is because I keep replaying “The Place Where He Inserted The Blade” on loop. This album is one of the most cleansing listens I’ve ever had on first listen, and after several others it hasn’t lost an ounce of that. The reception this album has been getting is unprecedented and I truly believe we have witnessed the release of a modern day classic. There might have been bigger releases in recent years, but this one feels the most important. A classic born right in front of our eyes. This is all due to seven friends who find unbridled joy in creating with each other. There is nothing more wonderful than creating and this album is a testament to that.

Mitski – Laurel Hell
Art Pop
Released February 4, 2022

4 Globes out of 5

The revival of the pop sound of the 80s has grown tiring for some people, as it seems the pop market is flooded with throwback jams left and right. When the first singles for Mitski’s new album came out, many started to make those claims. As it turns out, “Laurel Hell” takes many cues from that decade, but not in the way you are used to. Instead of harping on the dance pop and disco of the decade, Mitski seems to be drawing from the iconic record label 4AD and it’s hosts of artists like Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, and A.R. Kane.

Songs like “Working For The Knife” and “Heat Lightning” are dripping with that gothic melancholy that the label was known for. “Everyone,” a track that seems to be confusing some fans due to the huge stylistic change for her, is a pure sendup to minimal synth acts of old, with its brooding keyboards and dirge-like tempo conveying the perfect atmosphere for Mitski’s self-reflection on the track. That is not to say the album doesn’t dip into traditional 80s influences. The one-two punch of “The Only Heartbreaker” and “Love Me More” are new wave through and through, with the latter song sounding like a modern day take on New Order, especially in the guitar tone. “Should’ve Been Me” stands as one of the album’s highlights, with its doo-wop influenced pianos and infectious chorus digging their way into your head for days on end. The only song to top it is the closer “That’s Our Lamp,” which is one of her best tracks so far. The synth break leading into the outro with the various sounds in the background leave the album on such a high note.

Mitksi has dropped another phenomenal album, but it is certainly one that will polarize fans. The more ambient tracks mixed in with the upbeat ones do make the album feel a little disjointed at times, but there aren’t any weak moments. The brief length of the album also keeps the album from building any real sort of identity over time as a result. In the end, it feels more like a very strong collection of songs instead of an album. Even so, she continues to evade putting out a bad record.

Animal Collective – Time Skiffs
Released February 4, 2022

4.5 Globes out of 5

Animal Collective have starved fans for a proper new album for six years. After all this time, the group returned for the first full length album to include all four members since 2012’s “Centipede Hz.” The past fifteen years of shifting in the band’s sound has been entirely erased as this album can easily be mistaken for anything from their classic period.

That being said, this is also easily their best album since their massive era-defining “Merriweather Post Pavilion” in 2009. Their experiments with ambient and world music from their album “Here Comes The Indian” return, mixed with the sunshine and song structures of their albums “Feels” and “Strawberry Jam.” I mean it when I say this is a perfect melding of the classic AnCo sound. “Prester John” makes a case for one of the group’s best combinations, with an incredibly rewarding second half that features some wonderful bass work. “Strung With Everything” describes anxiety and overstimulation amidst ironically titanic and engulfing instrumentals and group vocals that are just so pleasing to the ear. The dub and exotica influence throughout the album definitely comes from Panda Bear, who lays down some of his best melodies in ages across the record. “Walker” is a catchy pop song written in tribute to the late Scott Walker, fit with marimbas that tickle something in my brain and vocal harmonies that call back to The Beach Boys. “Royal And Desire” finds the album ending by sailing off towards the horizon in an ethereal wash of guitar and watery pianos.

This album is pure psychedelic bliss. Seeing as reception has been intensely positive but the hype has been rather lowkey, it seems like AnCo’s time in the sun is past due. However, they prove with “Time Skiffs” that they can easily pull out a classic when they want to. If anyone wants something fun and adventurous to cheer them up, put on this album and imagine you’re sitting on an inflatable raft in the waters of a tropical island. Perfect summer music.

Yeule – Glitch Princess
Glitch Pop
Released February 4, 2022

4 Globes out of 5

Many young musicians try to channel their anxieties into their music, especially those who center in electronic genres like hyperpop, glitch pop and other similar fields of music. Yeule, born in Singapore and now residing in London, is one of the artists to articulate it the best in recent years. Their first album “Serotonin II” was a very lonely affair, but it was bittersweet in nature. “Glitch Princess” is a whole other beast in comparison.

This album draws from an eclectic group of influences, from shoegaze to post-industrial to indie folk. Lyrically, Yeule dives deeper into themes of alienation while also touching on self-hatred alongside both love and self-harm. Their lyrics are very direct and at times uncomfortable in their honesty, but they are at the same time cathartic. “Don’t Be So Hard On Your Own Beauty” tells a very honest and detailed story about wondering why someone would love you despite your addictions and self-destructive behaviors. This track and many others like it on the album would surely make many people break down and cry if they read the lyrics. The instrumentals can be just as cathartic, such as the droning guitars on “Flowers Are Dead” or the synth progression in the middle section of “Fragments.” Yeuele’s voice is chopped up throughout most of the album, coming in like light through shutters. They provide some disturbing screams that are hushed in the background of “Bites On My Neck” that really make the song all the more cathartic. The guitars and synths on this song sound like if you took Anamanaguchi and Brian Eno and melted them together. There are also subtle house influences across certain tracks that really spices up how Yeule plays with all of these sounds outside of a rock or pop context while keeping it somewhat commercial and catchy.

The use of noise across the album is incredibly placed, as it adds so much to the background of these songs. There is so much going on at all times, but it never feels overbearing. Even when Yeule is reciting trauma on tracks like “I <3 You,” it feels comforting. They are sharing these experiences as a sort of relief. As we listen, we realize we are also a part of that healing process. Music is such a powerful art form for that reason. Catharsis can come from both creation and consumption. I have to admit that I never actually finished this album. The closer “The Things They Did For Me Out Of Love” has been branded as a bonus track since it doesn’t appear on any physical editions of the album, but it is the true finale on streaming services. Seeing as I only have the weekend to listen to these albums, I couldn’t find time to squeeze this track in considering it is a four and a half hour ambient drone track. I plan on sitting down with this whole song at some point, but the first ten or so minutes closed out my initial listening. After skimming through the track, it seems like a fitting meditation on what the listener has just endured. Self reflection is hard, but Yeule makes sure we dedicate the time to do it. Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory
Released February 4, 2022

4 Globes out of 5

Sometimes I buy things without really giving it much thought. I don’t remember when or why I bought Rolo Tomassi’s previous album “Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It,” but I did and I liked it. It was a blend of mathcore and blackgaze that seemed really intriguing due to vocalist Eva Korman’s tendency to stick to clean vocals. I enjoyed how atmospheric that album was and wanted to hear it expanded upon. Thankfully, “Where Myth Becomes Memory” does exactly that.

The opening track wastes no time to establish this album’s lush sound. The pianos twinkle around the distorted guitars as Korman’s vocals float on top. Even the next song, “Cloaked,” gives time for the band to incorporate blissful passages amid the aggressive verses. Despite my admiration for Korman’s clean vocals, I have to admit she has stunning harsh vocals across the album. The band also switches between the heavier moments and more delicate passages with ease, only transitioning between the two when necessary. The fact that the band have such restraint on not overutilizing this dichotomy keeps them from sounding corny or cliche. “Mutual Ruin” is a perfect example, featuring blistering guitars and vocals as well as angelic pianos on the outro. “Drip” is another wonderful example. The intro with the thundering drums and guitars sets the song up as something entirely different than what you’d expect, only for the last two minutes of the track to finally act upon that notion. “Stumbling” is a brief piano ballad that is so tender you can hear each click of a finger pressing down on a key. The sense of space across the album is immaculate. However, sometimes the atmosphere swallows the songwriting a little too much. Even so, any time you think too hard about it, a killer riff kicks in and snaps your neck in half. The guitar tones and overall production are just exactly as they should be.

If you aren’t a metal fan, this album might work for you. It is inviting enough through the gentle moments to the average listener that the harsher moments will land a lot better. While the mathcore sections are quite aggressive, they never feel too atonal or difficult for the non-fans. Metalheads might reject the more melodic and pretty moments across the record, but they need to accept that this music can sound gorgeous and “metal cred” elitism is something that should’ve died off in the 90s. Don’t gatekeep, you might miss out on a pretty cool album.